Montana tribes edge closer to role at National Bison Range

2012-05-16T07:30:00Z 2012-05-16T22:35:08Z Montana tribes edge closer to role at National Bison RangeBy VINCE DEVLIN Missoulian The Billings Gazette
May 16, 2012 7:30 am  • 

MOIESE -– Prolonged efforts by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to be a part of the management and operation of the National Bison Range on their reservation are again moving forward.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a notice that an environmental assessment will be written regarding CSKT’s desire to enter into an annual funding agreement for operations and maintenance of certain programs and activities at the Bison Range complex.

The last funding agreement was shot down in a federal courtroom in Washington, D.C., in 2010, essentially because that step wasn’t followed by the federal government prior to a 2008 funding agreement between the FWS and the tribes.

That agreement "relied on a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) document from 2004 that the judge determined was not adequate,” said Dean Rundle, the Moiese refuge’s manager. “This is based on that ruling.”

It will give interested parties the opportunity to comment on the draft funding agreement, first in a scoping period Rundle said is designed to identify “issues, problems and missed opportunities” that can be more easily addressed before a formal public comment period.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which filed the lawsuit that got the last agreement thrown out and has long fought any tribal involvement at the Bison Range, indicated it would again oppose a funding agreement.

“When people have a chance to evaluate the funding agreement on their own, they’ll be hard-pressed to figure out how PEER came to some of the allegations they make,” said CSKT spokesman Rob McDonald.

McDonald noted that an investigation by the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Interior last year found, on virtually a point-by-point basis, no merit in PEER’s longstanding charges of wrongdoing by CSKT employees who worked at the Bison Range under two previous funding agreements.

PEER has also previously claimed previous funding agreements “ceded control” of the Bison Range to the tribes, which was never the case.

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